by Becky Benoit
This week, my nine-year old handed me a scrap of paper. I started at it stupidly for a moment, trying to decipher the hieroglyphic scribblings, before finally giving up and asking, “What is this?”
“It’s my Christmas wish list,” Grace replied, managing to refrain from adding “…obviously…” onto the end of her statement.
“But all it says is iTunes gift card,” I said, squinting at the so-called “list.”
“Yeah, that’s all I want,” she answered. “Well, that and a laptop.”
As I mourn for those now-lost days when my daughter was delighted by a Barbie or a bicycle under the Christmas tree, I’m realizing how important Christmas traditions are. We live in a digital age where, more often than not, gifts come not in the form of hand-made items created and wrapped with care, but in the form of plastic cards. Even Christmas trees come pre-lit and neatly packaged in a box.
In the face of modern progress, it’s more important than ever to cherish our holiday traditions. One of my favourites has always been curling up with a good book and a glass of eggnog in front of the fire with my kids in the days before Christmas. It’s a great opportunity to take a break from the stress and bustle of the pre-Christmas rush, as well as a chance to wander down memory lane and enjoy stories from your own childhood once again.
Here are some tried-and-true classic Christmas books for kids. As a teacher, I’ve found that kids love to hear these tales during the holidays, no matter how old they get. So whether you’re little one wants a Barbie for Christmas or their own car, consider sharing one of these holiday classic books this year.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss: An absolute classic that never gets old. The Christmas-hating Grinch manages to steal Christmas from the Whos of Whoville, only to discover that the spirit of Christmas can’t be stolen at all. Kids of all ages love this heartwarming story for its clever rhymes, fun illustrations and feel-good moral of good triumphing over evil.
‘Twas The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore. There’s a good reason this classic holiday poem has remained perennially popular for nearly 200 years. Just saying the first line aloud brings to mind the magical quiet of a darkened house on Christmas Eve, waiting for Santa to arrive. My favourite version of this book is illustrated by Jan Brett, who also wrote another wintertime classic for kids, The Mitten. The gorgeous illustrations in this version will keep your kids interested as you rediscover this classic Christmas poem.
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. This book is treasured as much for the story, which is full of the wonder and magic of Christmas and never seems to get old, as for Van Allsburg’s beautiful illustrations. This story of a little boy who rides a magical train to the North Pole to see Santa and his elves is truly a holiday classic to be read year after year.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. My grade 5 teacher read this short Christmas novella to our class one memorable year, and it’s remained a holiday favourite for me ever since. The Herdmans are a family of six juvenile delinquents who smoke cigars, swear like sailors and generally cause chaos wherever they go. When they hear that that the local church offers free snacks for those children participating in the annual Christmas pageant, the Herdmans descend, with hilarious and heartwarming results. This is a great story to read aloud to your school-aged kids.
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. This short story is one of those classic tales that can be appreciated by younger children, and offers a wonderful jumping-off point for some great discussions with older kids about the true meaning of Christmas. Written in 1906, it’s a beautiful story of a young couple trying to make Christmas special for each other by sacrificing what they love most. One of my absolute favourite holiday stories.
And, in the interest of creating new holiday traditions with your family, consider Elf on a Shelf. This book, which comes packaged with a stuffed elf toy, explains how exactly Santa manages to keep an eye on children and determine who is naughty, and who is nice. As it turns out, he’s helped by an army of elves who watch children and report back to Santa. In the days leading up to Christmas, parents read this book to their children and then, after the kids are in bed, pose the elf in funny locations and positions all around the house. Kids love to search out where their elf has ended up each morning, and it’s a great way to build anticipation for Christmas Day. A warning, though: if you start, you have to stick with it right up until Christmas!